Networking: Starting a Conversation

A question I get a lot about networking is how to get a conversation started. I did a post last year with tips on how to network at an industry conference or event, but I thought I’d give some examples of how some actual conversations I’ve had at NACDA the past few days have started.

The first new person I met at NACDA was in the lobby in a cafe. I’d been working on my laptop and was packing up to leave. As I unplugged my computer, a gentleman at the table next to me spoke up and our conversation started like this:

Gentleman: “You must have gotten here early to snag the power outlet.”

Me: (Laugh) “Yeah, they’ve been hard to come by here.”

Gentleman: “What school are you here with?”

Me: “I’m a reporter for ESPN. What about you?”

Gentleman: “I’m with [Company], we’re one of the exhibitors.”

The gentleman got up, extended his hand and told me his name. I did the same and we got into where we’re from, what his business does for athletic departments, etc. I talked to him for at least half an hour, all because he commented on the fact that I’d found a power outlet for my laptop.

You do not have to say the most intelligent or witty thing you’ve ever said in your life to start a conversation at one of these events. You just have to say something.

Here’s another example. This gentleman was sitting next to me in a conference room. Before the panel began, he started a conversation like this:

Gentleman: “Where’d you find that water?” (referring to my water bottle in front of me)

Me: “We actually made a run to the grocery store yesterday. Four dollars for a bottle of water here seemed a little pricey.”

Gentleman: “That was smart.”

Me: “Check over in [Conference Room X] though. They had bottles out yesterday between sessions. You’ve just gotta stock up when you can.”

He proceeded to make a joke about filling his pants pockets with water bottles, we introduced ourselves and proceeded to have a discussion for ten minutes or so about his athletic department. After the panel we picked up where we left off and talked some more about his job, how long he’d been there, etc.

Comment on how cold the room is (these conference rooms are always freezing!), how good the panels have been, the bad wireless connections (another thing all conferences have in common) – anything. Just say something and conversation will ensue. Don’t over-think it.

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